The son of an engraver Edward Goodall and brother of Edward Alfred Goodall, Goodall won a silver medal at the Society of Arts in 1837, at the age of 14. He toured Ireland in 1843 with F.W. Topham and his early works are mainly genre and peasant scenes in the Wilkie tradition. He travelled extensively as did his brother who accompanied the Schomburgh Guiana Boundary Expedition in 1841, visiting the Crimea in 1854 and Morocco, Spain, Portual and Italy. Two of his sons, Frederick Trevelyan and Herbert Goodall were also painters.
Goodall made two journeys to the East. Feeling restricted by the genre images which he was producing, he spent the winter of 1858-9 in Egypt. Much of the trip was spent in the company of the Bavarian born watercolourist Carl Haag. The account he gave of his visit leaves no doubt of the visual excitement he received from the scene in Cairo, and he was indefatigable in sketching. Impressed by the gracefulness of the Egyptians and the grandeur of the landscape, Goodall made them the central focus of his art and exhibited the first of his many Orientalist scenes, Early morning in the Wilderness of Shur, at the Royal Academy in 1860. The work was praised by critics and artists, including Sir Edwin Landseer and David Roberts, and established Goodall's reputation. The sale of all of his oil sketches from this tour to the dealer Ernest Gambart for six thousand guineas financed his second visit in 1870-1. On this trip he and a dragoman on donkeys (carrying a sketching box designed and given to Goodall by the French animal painter, Rosa Bonheur) joined the nomadic bedouin near Saqqara. The present work was probably inspired by this trip and shows two fellahin driving sheep through a palm grove.
Goodall took part in the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 and continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1902. At the height of his career he was earning over £10,000 a year and he commissioned Norman Shaw to design his house, along with fellow artists Kate Greenaway, Frank Holl, Edwin Long, Marcus Stone and Luke Fildes. Unfortunately a large number of his Egyptian pictures were destroyed during the Second World War.